Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Go Down Together

A couple of weeks ago it was my pleasure to attend and speak at the Texas Book Festival in Austin, a wonderfully managed event staged in and around the impressive and beautiful Capitol Building.

Of course, it was great fun to meet and greet “Crockett in Congress” readers and hear their stories, but it was also a blast to sit in the audience and listen to presentations from fellow authors. My friend Jim Donovan (author of the wonderful book, “A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn,”) advised me to try and catch Jeff Guinn’s talk on Bonnie and Clyde in support of his new book, “Go Down Together,” and, boy, was that a good tip.

Guinn’s delivery was what might be described as “folksy,” meaning he seemed relaxed and comfortable, and he made the audience feel as if he were talking to each one of us individually. Jeff is a wonderful story teller, and his tale of the Barrow gang, a tragedy if ever there was one, pulled me right in and made me want to know more; exactly what a successful presentation at a book festival should do. After his close I strolled right over to the sales tent and bought a signed copy of his book, which I’ve been reading and enjoying for the last couple of evenings. From its vivid depiction of the conditions in the West Dallas slum that sparked the duo’s criminal career to the blood-spattered and bullet-riddled end of the line for Clyde and Bonnie, the book is a rollicking read, and is sure to pull you in.

If you think you know the real story because you saw Warren Beatty’s film, think again. It’s a riveting movie, but it’s Hollywood. Guinn gives you the real rundown on a couple of kids (both Bonnie and Clyde were dead before they hit their mid-twenties) from the wrong side of the tracks that made a lot of bad decisions, became media darlings in the process, and paid the ultimate price.

Guinn is not an apologist for the duo, and is quick to point out that most people who labored under the same crushing poverty as the Barrows and the Parkers did not turn to crime as an avenue of escape. Readers are encouraged, however, to ponder our own complicity in a media environment that showcases base criminal behavior as entertainment, and as members of a society that tends to turn a blind eye toward social Darwinism until we’re staring down the barrel of some kid’s gun.

Go down together indeed.